Alister Humphreys, SVP, Strategy EMEA, at global background screening solutions provider First Advantage, talks to TALiNT Partners Chief Executive Ken Brotherston about how the UK is leading the way in digital trust and what this means for hiring processes.
The UK is leading the world in digital trust, driving efficiency, and helping to combat identity fraud in background screening. Employers should conduct digital identity checks first when hiring.
Almost all medium to large organisations are now part of an international talent pool due to globalisation and the explosion in remote working. There are more opportunities for talent acquisition, but also more complex challenges surrounding candidate verification and identity fraud.
In this environment, the concept of digital trust is becoming increasingly important for employee screening and onboarding – and you may be interested to know that the UK is considered a world leader in this field.
Alister Humphreys, SVP, Strategy EMEA, at leading background screening organisation First Advantage, understands better than most why employers who don’t adapt their processes around digital identity are at risk of being left behind. Alister advocates for a digital first strategy in employment screening.
Ken Brotherston: Let’s start by exploring the idea of digital trust. How would you explain it to a layperson?
Alister Humphreys: Digital trust is about digitising and automating the process, but also creating trust in the process. So, if you go back five to ten years, background screening companies were less technology oriented and the process of background screening was very paper led. For example, prospective employee reference checks would work something like this: an applicant would provide their CV, which would state that they had worked at X company and went to Y university, and someone would take that information and try to verify it. Identity was typically one of the last things a candidate was asked to prove; they would turn up on the day they were due to start work with a driving license or a passport.
Creating trust is about putting that digital identity check at the very start of the process and ensuring that it is carried out against the recognised UK Government Agency standards for digital identity. This can be used to verify two things about a candidate – firstly that they have the right to work in the UK and secondly, if a DBS check is required, the digital identity can be used to verify the individuals’ identity for that check. While every employee in the UK is required to have a right to work check, not every employee has to have a DBS check, although, depending on Job Role, at least a Basic Level DBS check is highly encouraged.
When you improve the process by carrying out a digital identity check at the start, you’re creating trust helping to ensure that the person you’re hiring is the person that they say they are.
KB: I appreciate that the scale of identity fraud is hard to quantify, as much of it is hidden, but do you have a sense of whether it is getting worse?
AH: That’s an interesting question and a difficult one to answer. Fraudulent applications for UK job roles come in many guises and for many reasons. Today, these applications are becoming ever more sophisticated. Given the Home Office recently announced plans for significant increases to illegal worker civil penalties it indicates, either an increase in the scale of the problem, or a greater desire to reduce the prevalent problem, or maybe both. The changes will mean that organisations employing a worker without the appropriate UK right to work will be liable to pay fines starting at £45,000 per worker. This is an increase from the £15,000 penalty that currently can be levied for a first breach. Repeat offenders can anticipate fines of £60,000 per illegal worker they employ. The increase is due to take effect from the start of 2024.
KB: What are the barriers to adoption?
AH: The primary barrier to wide scale adoption is in providing sufficiently clear, factual, information for employers, so they understand the benefits for both their organisation and applicants. The penny is starting to drop with innovative employers that they can include digital identity into their own legacy hiring processes, driving competitive advantage and minimising potential fraudulent applications.
Today, more and more employers want to be able to give a candidate a job offer on a Friday and have that individual start the following Monday. This is possible to achieve for many candidates, by including digital identity, however employers need to re-think their current hiring processes to achieve it.
For example, we’re working with a large UK retailer who have now introduced certified digital identity services to conduct UK right to work checks at the very front end of their hiring process. They receive a high volume of job applications for each role so screening identity and Right To Work eligibility early, at the point of application leads to significant cost reduction in their overall end-to-end recruitment process and gives hiring managers back valuable time. Think of all the time and effort wasted in interviewing and bringing thousands of people through the hiring process only to find out at the 11th hour that they do not have the right to work in the UK.
When we first started talking to the market, before digital identity for UK right to work and DBS became legislation, there was an assumption that digital identity checks for UK right to work and UK criminal record checks could be applied to all candidates, irrespective of their nationality, and coming from any country to work in the UK. The reality is, as of today, the digital identity check is only applicable for UK right to work checks when the candidate holds a valid UK or Irish passport, or valid Irish ID card. Furthermore, digital identity for UK criminal record checks is only applicable for DBS checks, specific for roles in England and Wales – Scotland and Northern Ireland have different systems today.
KB: So how do you overcome these barriers and drive adoption?
AH: Well, the first point is to be able to provide absolute clarity to employers in terms of what is, and what isn’t possible, and the potential of what the future holds. Today we have highly motivated employers, and in many cases even more motivated candidates. Employers want to onboard talent quickly and applicants want to start work as soon as possible – the use case is very clear.
In several industries tech savvy candidates are starting to drive changes. The gig economy is a good example. So, picture a student in Bristol who has a bicycle and wants to make some money. They apply online, via their mobile, to become a delivery rider. On the basis they have valid documentation to hand, and their prospective employers hiring process accepts fully digital applications, it is possible they could apply from the comfort of their sofa, have their background checked for the role, and start work the very next day.
Consider the frustration for this student if the food delivery company they want to work for does not accept digital applications. Immediately they will apply to the competitor food delivery company that does. If you’re a candidate in a high turnover industry and one prospective organisation can get you through the hiring process faster, that may well have an impact on your decision of which company to join.
Candidates are going to drive change because, increasingly, they are demanding that things happen much, much faster. If your company doesn’t offer this, your competitor will.
KB: How do you see digital trust evolving in the next couple of years?
AH: Usage growth will continue, and it will become more commonplace in the UK and internationally. UK government bodies, such as the Department for Science, Information & Technology (DSIT) and the Home Office, are working hard to expand digitisation of their services. Similarly, this is happening with governments in other countries and regions. In the UK, with continuation of accreditation schemes for the Identity Service Providers (IDSP’s), to ensure robustness in the process, we anticipate expansion of the current UK Government trust framework which will enable digital identity to be used by employers for candidates who do not hold UK or Irish passports, or Irish ID cards, but do wish to be hired for roles in the UK.
I mentioned that procedures differ for criminal record checks in different parts of the UK today – that will be resolved with digital ID checks becoming increasingly seamless and interoperable.
KB: What are your top tips for employers?
AH: Take paper out of your process altogether and drive everything upstream, ideally fully integrated with your applicant tracking system. Instigate digital identity checks on all candidates right up front, to establish trust, reduce fraudulent applications, and drive efficiency in your end-to-end process. By having your background screening checks fully integrated into your applicant tracking system it also delivers a much better candidate experience – they can go online, apply, and your process automatically triggers their background checks.
Top Employer Takeaways
- Often, digital identity checks are done at the end of the hiring process. Doing them at the start can save significant time and money.
- When choosing a background screening partner, if your job roles require it, look for international capability and coverage.
- Drive digital identity checks from your applicant tracking system to deliver a much better candidate experience.
At A Glance
- Digital trust is a wider concept within employment screening. It’s more than just a digital identity check, but digital identity checks are at the heart of digital trust.
- Digital trust is pivotal to tackling the growing problem of identity fraud. Adoption of digital identity first hiring is becoming more commonplace.
- The UK is in many respects a global leader in this area, with internationally recognised standards.
- As the employment market becomes more flexible, for example, with the growth of the gig economy, candidates will choose employers who offer ease and speed of digital identity verification.
- Usage will expand both in the UK and internationally, making it easier for employers to conduct checks on global candidates.
“The UK is leading the way globally with the introduction of the UK digital identity and attributes trust framework – working to help people securely prove who they are without having to rely on physical documents.”
“The technology exists today. You can hire smarter and onboard faster by enabling your candidates to prove their identity digitally, securely, and more efficiently.”